The owners’ resistance to take-out is all but forgotten. “If we want the business to survive, we had to change the business model,” White said.
Planta, a Miami-based herbal coffeehouse chain, is another restaurant that is rethinking its form and function. Earlier in the pandemic, business was limp with limited indoor meals and minimal take-out. For Steven Salm, CEO of Planta, and his partner, Chef David Lee, the only way to support 10 restaurants and 550 employees was to turn their food into something that could be shipped across the country, which meant rethinking the way to prepare, cook, freeze. and seal pizzas, burgers and dumplings, their most popular product.
Stuffed with a range of vegetables – shiitake, spinach and potatoes – the dumpling wrappers stick like glue to keep their contents contained. They also stick to other dumplings, which can lead to inconvenience. Planta had to design a precise system for arranging the dumplings, quick freezing and vacuum sealing them: if there was too much moisture in the freezer bag, the packages would stick together. If there was too much oxygen, the pellets would collapse and lose their shape. If they weren’t tight enough, barely touching but not resting on top of each other, the freezer bag would roll like a tube of toothpaste and crack things. While they were working on the process, Salm sent packets of dumplings every day to friends and influencers who took photos of every corner and crimped them on arrival before getting the green light from Salm to throw them away. in a pot of simmering water.
Now the restaurant chain sends out hundreds of boxes the next day a week, kept cold by blocks of dry ice, although Salm would. really like to know how to send them on the second day instead. A lot less expensive. And Salm and Lee aren’t embarking on this “little” project just to turn the clock back when the restaurant industry comes back online. “We wanted the Planta-at-home brand to feel special,” says Salm. The meatballs arrive accompanied by cute glass jars filled with truffle soy sauce and chili oil. Once they’re empty, you’ll keep them.
At Bathtub Gin, a somewhat hidden bar in New York City, the problem was how to keep selling cocktails even if no customers were allowed in. “It’s been a long and difficult struggle,” says Beverage Manager Brendan Bartley. Before Covid, Bathtub Gin was known for its complex cocktail menu – a concoction of 30 ingredients was common. Once the pandemic hit, Bartley got to work recreating his drinks so he could bottle them for take-out, delivery and possibly shipping nationwide. For bonus points, the Australian spirits expert also wanted them to be stable for six months. When the bar reopens, it is expected that only one staff member will use those same bottled cocktails – fewer crowds means a safer workforce. And he wants zero waste.
Some drinks like the 17-ingredient, 15-step “If You Like Piña Colada” Complex could be pre-made and bottled. Others, like the “Lime-Free Margarita”, were tougher than you might think. Bartley says the problem with limes, and really all citrus fruits, is that they’ll eventually ferment in the bottle and spoil. But the acids give that nice flavor and, well, a margarita needs lime like the rim of the glass needs salt. Bartley was able to replicate the crucial fruit by adding citric, malic, and tartaric acid plus lime oil to a mixture of tequila, agave, and distilled water. “We have this ideology that the fresh is the best,” Bartley said. “But it’s not always the best thing to use when trying to make things consistent.”
Make LOTS of reservations
Not to be dark, but one thing people don’t need right now are dinner reservations. This has left restaurant booking apps like Resy, Tock, and Open Table scrambling to find new ways to make money. Before Covid, Tock allowed fancy restaurants to sell prepaid dinner reservations, what Nick Kokonas, CEO and founder of Tock, calls “tickets”. When the pandemic hit, Tock was sitting on tens of millions of dollars in restaurant tickets that should be canceled and refunded. “There was an existential risk for my two businesses,” he says. (Kokonas is also a co-owner of the Alinea Group in Chicago, which includes the three-Michelin-starred Alinea.)